Tuesday, January 25, 2022


Article Index

IV. Manifest Destiny and Echoes of Terrace Today

Though the slogan of manifest destiny seldom finds its way into contemporary discourse, the sentiment it evokes is very much alive. Few Washingtonians may have heard of Terrace v. Thompson, yet its legacy is quite intact. By examining a state's racial history, one can see recurrent patterns that, somewhat like DNA, predictably replicate behavior. Washington, late to enter the Union, was considered by some to be the last bastion of untarnished land. Inhabited by peaceful Indians, untainted by slavery, not a place of seething multiracialism and immigration, it remained for decades an overwhelmingly white state. If you were white, you would likely be surrounded by people like yourself; if not, you might find yourself leading a lonely existence with chilly relations with your neighbors. If you were unlucky, you might encounter one of the region's Aryan supremacist groups that would make your life miserable.

If you were historically minded, you might suspect that the region's history had something to do with it. The reader will recall how Washington, while a territory, dispatched its Indians to miniscule, forlorn reservations. Chinese were excluded from immigration by federal law until 1943; local attitudes kept them on edge both before and after that. Japanese were cut off from agricultural livelihood and, not long after, interned. Black migration from the South was tolerated, but not encouraged. Mexican workers have lived, in large part, under the radar.

Immigration of undocumented workers, much of it Latino, has increased as global migration changed direction in the last few decades. Formerly from west to east, or in some cases east to west, migration now proceeds from south to north. The manifest-destiny agenda of multinational corporations has delivered free trade to Latin America via NAFTA, bringing profits to U.S.-based companies and poverty to countries south of our border. Mexican farmers cannot compete with U.S.-subsidized corn, a staple of the Mexican diet. These little-regarded consequences have resulted in a migration of millions of Latin American farm workers to the U.S. looking for ways to make a living wage, much as did Japanese agricultural workers in the early twentieth century.

Latino workers have been essential to agriculture in Washington for many years. As with other racial groups, sometimes they have been treated well or ignored. Recently, however, the nation's tangled immigration laws have subjected them to workplace raids, deportation, loss of benefits, and charges of unassimilability. Naturalization is but a dream for the undocumented, and the repeal of birthright citizenship a threat for their children who were born here. At the local level, states and municipalities seem to apply the same template of suspicion, nativism, and xenophobia to virtually all new groups, particularly if they look different than the majority population. Latinos' misfortunes in Washington and other states now echo those of indigenous people, the Japanese, and the Chinese before them. Terrace v. Thompson paved the way for Japanese internment during World War II. Will we be seeing more cases like it soon?

. Research Professor of Law, Seattle University.